NCAA Tournament Recap: Busted Brackets & Buzzer Beaters
Upsets ruled during the early rounds of the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Ten teams seeded 10th or higher won first-round games over higher-seeded opponents in the round of 64, resulting in a record-number of upsets and busted brackets across the country. Here’s a recap of the first weekend of March Madness:
Buzzer-Beaters Are Still Awesome
Nothing is better than a buzzer-beater to end an NCAA tournament game (unless your team loses). Bronson Koenig (at top of post) made two 3-pointers in the final seconds, including one to beat the buzzer, and No. 7 Wisconsin topped No. 2 Xavier, 66-63, in the second round of the East Region of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis on Sunday night. (It even made Bill Murray sad!)
Koenig’s shot was the second game-winner of Sunday; Rex Pflueger’s tip-in gave Notre Dame a last-second win over Stephen F. Austin, 76-75, in the East Region earlier in the day.
On Friday, Paul Jesperson banked in a half court shot at the buzzer to lead 11th-seeded Northern Iowa over No. 6 seed Texas, 75-72, in the West Region. However, the Panthers luck ran out on Sunday. They blew a 12-point lead over Texas A&M with 35 seconds left in regulation and lost to the Aggies, 92-88, in double-overtime.
The Atlantic Coast Conference Rules
Forever blessed with talent and tradition, the Atlantic Coast Conference showed that it is clearly the best league in the country this season. Six of the conference’s seven teams in the tournament advanced to the Sweet Sixteen: North Carolina, Virginia, Miami, Duke, Notre Dame and Syracuse. It’s the first time ever six teams from the same conference have reached the regional semifinals in the same year.
The only ACC team in the tourney not to make the Sweet Sixteen was 10th-seeded Pittsburgh, which lost to No. 7 Wisconsin, 47-43, in the first round of the East Region.
The Pac-12 Is Overrated
The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 each had seven teams invited to ‘The Big Dance’ this year. At the end of the first weekend of March Madness, only Oregon was left to represent the Pac-12, while the ACC (6), Big Ten (3) and Big 12 (3) all had multiple representatives in the Sweet Sixteen.
What happened? Well, Utah (3), California (4), Arizona (6) and Oregon State (7) weren’t nearly good enough to be seeded as highly as they were. USC (8) and Colorado (8) lost very competitive first-round games…to teams that got drilled by top seeds in Saturday’s second round.
No one will care much about the failure of the Pac-12 if Oregon can make the Final Four, but West Coast fans can’t be pleased with their national standing after the tourney’s first weekend.
Michigan State Isn’t For Real, Either
One game gave fans the biggest disappointment and the biggest upset: second-seeded Michigan State’s loss to 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State on Friday in St. Louis. One of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA Tournament, the game’s outcome represented the eighth time ever a No. 15 seed beat a No. 2.
Tom Izzo’s Spartans first-round loss completely exemplifies the parity that has reigned throughout this season in college basketball. MSU were Big Ten champs with a talented superstar (Denzel Valentine) ready to lead their march to Houston. And, they were allegedly robbed of a No. 1 seed. They certainly didn’t prove they deserved it.
It Was Good To Be Seeded 11th
A double-digit NCAA tournament seed almost always means an early exit for the team that holds it. That was not so in 2016: three No. 11 seeds won first-round games against sixth-seeded opponents: Wichita State knocked out Arizona, 65-55, in the South, then lost to No. 3 Miami on Saturday; West Region No. 11 Northern Iowa shocked No. 6 Texas, 75-72, before losing to Texas A&M in double-OT on Sunday; and, No. 11 Gonzaga routed both No. 6 Seton Hall, 68-52, and No. 3 Utah, 82-59, on the way to the Midwest Region semifinals.
It also wasn’t bad to be a No. 10 or 12 seed this year, either.
Tenth-seeds VCU and Syracuse scored easy first-round wins in the West and Midwest regions, respectively. The Rams nearly topped Oklahoma to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, but their rally fell short on Sunday. The Orange didn’t have that problem, drubbing Middle Tennessee State, 75-50, to advance.
Twelfth-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock beat Purdue, 85-83, in double-overtime on Thursday, but fell to No. 4-seed Iowa State,78-61, in the Midwest Region on Saturday.
Makai Mason scored 31 points, leading No. 12 Yale over No. 5 Baylor, 79-75, in first-round play of the West Region of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. It was the Bulldogs’ first-evere NCAA tournament victory. They gave defending national champion Duke a great game before losing, 71-64, on Saturday.
Gonzaga Is The Biggest Cinderella Still Dancing
It’s almost cheating a little to call Gonzaga a ‘Cinderella.’ After all, the Bulldogs have had a great college hoops program for decades.
This year, powered by frontcourt star Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga had to win the West Coast Conference tournament to claim a No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region. They then ran by Seton Hall, 68-52, in the first round and trounced No. 3-seeded Utah, 82-59, on Saturday. Next up: 10th-seeded Syracuse, the only other double-digit seed left alive.
Several other teams who aren’t associated with March Madness success scored big upsets: Fourteenth-seeded Stephen F. Austin cut down third-seeded West Virginia, 70-56, in the East Region on Friday and nearly knocked out No. 6 Notre Dame on Sunday. Rex Pflueger’s tip-in basket with 1.5 seconds left rescued the Fighting Irish from the Lumberjacks, 76-75.
Additionally, 13th-seeded Hawaii knocked off No. 4 California,77-66, on Friday, but they couldn’t repeat the feat against No. 5 Maryland on Sunday. The Terps helped the Big Ten advance three teams into the Sweet Sixteen by beating the Rainbow Warriors, 73-60.
Kansas & North Carolina Should Make It To Houston
Even though upsets occurred in each region, the four top-seeded teams — Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia — all advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The tournament’s top seeds, Kansas and North Carolina, each won two games in dominating fashion.
Bill Self’s Jayhawks rolled Austin Peay, 105-79, and clobbered underrated Connecticut, 73-61. Kansas seemed as locked in as they’ve been all season.
Meanwhile, North Carolina dispatched a tough Florida Gulf-Coast team, 83-67, and then pulled away from pesky Providence, 85-66. Coach Roy Williams’ charges look to be peaking at precisely the right time.
Will these teams meet in the national championship? We’ll know soon enough.